Skeptiko podcast host, Alex Tsakiris had started his public journey into the world of psi research in January 2007. I had the opportunity to interview him about 5 months after he had started.
Six years and about 200 fantastic episodes later, Alex has agreed to a follow-up interview.
Despite starting the podcast without taking a position, just 5 months later you seemed to side with proponents of psi. I've got the feeling that in the following years you've established even firmly in the proponents camp. Is this where "following the data", as you love to say, led you?
Short answer — yes. My biggest surprise was discovering how weak the skeptical arguments against psi were. You hear these skeptical talking points like, "100 years of nothing", "pseudoscience", "lack of experiential controls", and it sounds like there's a raging scientific debate. But when I drilled into it I found very, very little substance to the Skeptical position.
Revisiting our previous interview reminded me that back then you had this initiative called Open Source Science. You wanted to duplicate some psi experiments, starting with the famous "Dogs that know" experiment of Rupert Sheldrake. I know you've done some work on it, but the project seems dead now. Even the web site redirects to Skeptiko.com. What happened to this initiative? Do you plan to conduct any experiments in the future?
I guess this kinda gets back to question 1 in that when I started out I thought there was a real scientific debate. I naively thought that more data would make a difference. Over time I came to understand that for most folks it's not about the data, it's about preserving their worldview.
Also, on a practical level, I found out how hard it is to do decent research. I spent a couple years and several thousand dollars on the "Dogs that Know" experiments. I even teamed up with some researchers at the University of Florida. We definitely observed some dogs that knew when their owners were coming home, but turning that into a viable research project was much harder than I expected.
You also had an idea to do a movie. What happened to that?
The good thing about movies is that you can always say you're still working on it… yea, I'll go with that
The podcast touched on many subjects related to parapsychology, including NDE research, nature of consciousness, ESP research, mediumship, religion, and even UFOs. Today, what do you firmly believe in regarding these topics. What you don't believe is true? Where are you still truly skeptical?
That's what Skeptiko is all about… so you gotta listen to find out
In some of the older episodes you told about your personal experience with medium readings and even an OBE (am I right?). What did these personal experience teach you?
My personal experience with medium readings demonstrated the reality of anomalous communication. As to the source of that communication, the simplest expatiation is survival of consciousness. I never was able to make it out of my body — lucid dreaming is as far as I got
I wonder how all that you've learned in these 6 years affected your personal life, your beliefs about the world, your relationships with friends and family. Can you share any of this?
The shift has been quite dramatic. I've become convinced that the evidence for survival of consciousness is overwhelming. I try to live that reality every day. Of course, "try" is the operative word… not sure my wife and kids think I try hard enough
Are there any people whom you wanted to interview but couldn't?
There are some Skeptics I would love to talk to, but these guys only do science interviews with folks that agree with them. I've found fundamentalist Christians are more open to debate than Skeptics.
You loved to talk about the "paradigm shift" in science, in which the mainstream scientific community will accept the existence of psi and divert more resources into the research and understanding the implications. Do you notice any such shifts in mainstream science in the last years?
Not really. Maybe a little more openness, but that's it. I don't think a system like the one we have that is totally enmeshed in materialism can bootstrap itself out of it.
Related to the previous question, from time to time there'll come out some books or some really interesting cases that reach the mass media, like "Proof of Heaven" book by Dr. Eben Alexander, whom you interviewed twice. the book was a bestseller and the person appeared all over mass media in the US. Yet again, it doesn't seem to move the scientific community interest in this topic. Why is that? What will it take to bring this paradigm shift?
I think most people are quite comfortable with this artificial, and fundamentally bizarre, divide we've created between "science" and "religion".
While the scientific community still remains mainly skeptical, it sometimes feels that there is much more openness on these topics in the general public. Perhaps the recent controversy over the TEDx talks of Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock is a good example. It appears that the public reaction to the banning of these talks, as could be seen on TED's discussion forums on them, was not one-sided. In fact, the number of commenters in favor of these talks was impressive. What does this teach us?
That the wrongheadedness of this biological-robot silliness is self-evident to anyone willing to look with an open mind.
You seem to have succeeded to create quite a vibrant community over the Skeptiko forums. Discussions between proponents and skeptics are usually conducted in a civilized manner. And if not, moderators take care of it, bringing the discussions back on track. Personally, reading fascinating accounts of the personal experiences of different members of the community makes me wonder why some people still have doubts in the validity of psi and extended consciousness. What have you learned from the community?
I learned a lot from this wonderful community that you've been so much a part of creating… thank you by the way
In some ways I feel like a bit of a slow learner I mean, a lot of the stuff I've learned through Skeptiko has been out there, and in many cases known to me, for quite some time. So, why did it take me so long to come around? Maybe I'm more like the skeptics I rail against than I'd like to admit… married to a worldview… unwilling to give up my illusion of control.
I guess the future of Skeptiko will be driven by the misconceptions I'm willing to let go of? I guess we'll find out together.
Any closing words
Thx for doing this interview Jacob. And thx for being such an important part of Skeptiko… from the very beginning.
The course web site includes syllabus, pricing and dates.
It also contains the following description:
This 8 week online introduction to parapsychology will include seven (7) classes by Dr. Nancy Zingrone, and a guest lecture by a prominent parapsychologist. Classes will begin on Monday, April 29th and continue until Monday June 17th. Classes will be broadcast each Monday (except Memorial Day) from 6:30pm – 8pm Eastern Time, but the courses will also be recorded so that you can view them when it is most convenient for you.
In this introductory online course, Dr. Nancy Zingrone will present a series of seven (7) online classes to introduce students to the basics of parapsychology; the scientific study of paranormal experiences. This interesting course will use case studies and experiments to explore extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (mind over matter), near death and out of body experiences, apparitions (including ghosts), and modern research in parapsychology. Students taking this course will gain a deeper understanding of subjective paranormal experiences and the nature of consciousness, and learn that there are a variety of ways to explore these fascinating experiences.
Julie Beischel, PhD, of the Windbridge Institute conducts a research to examine the potential clinical benefits of personal mediumship readings, especially during bereavement. The project is called the Bereavement And Mediumship (BAM) Study.
You can see the video where she describes the study below. They are also looking for some donations to conduct the study and you can donate by visiting here. The Web site of the project is http://www.afterlifescience.com/.
Update: On April 2, the newspaper wrote a further article where they report on the leading savant researcher, Dr. Darold A. Treffert, expressing interest in the case.
The Khaleej Times newspaper site reports of an intriguing case of a 9-year-old Indian girl, diagnosed with autism and ADHD, who can telepathically read her mother’s mind. And quite well, it appears.
The article has some some background about the girl and her family but to me the more interesting parts were the tests that the newspaper reporters performed with the girl and, following the newspaper’s inquiry, the tests that were performed later by a group of specialists from the Child Guidance Clinic in Sharjah.
The specialist psychiatrist at Sunny Speciality Medical Centre in Sharjah, Dr Jeena Fiji, who headed the team, has certified witnessing “the strength of Nandana to read her mother’s thoughts, desires and intentions.”
The results of all tests showed that the girl could type on a computer or say words, numbers or whole sentences that her mother was thinking, either sitting across her in the same room or even while being in a different room in the house.
Here are some more quotations from the article. The first is from the test arranged by the newspaper:
In our test, Sandhya was first given a note. It read “044050799 – the office number of Khaleej Times.” As soon as she read it in her mind, Sandhya sat with Nandana across a table. The computer was kept in such a way that the keyboard faced the daughter and the monitor faced the mother.
When her mother asked her to start typing, Nandana started keying in the numbers without even constantly looking at her mother. As she typed 044050799, it became evident to us that the child can actually read her mind!
The second test consisted of a whole sentence:
When Nandana successfully completed the first test, we decided to try her telepathic skill. This time the note given to her mother read: “Can I have some warm water please?”
The result came out as a sentence without any space between the words and with some minor spelling mistakes in between. But, it was still as amazing as the first instance.
The tests that were done at a later time by the above experts:
Nandana had come with her mother Sandhya Unnikrishnan. A poem of Grade 2 level was written and given to Sandhya. After her mother had read the poem in her mind, Nandana was asked to type in the laptop provided to her.
Nandana could type the entire poem without any prompt. A six digit number was also written and given to Sandhya, which too, Nandana could type after reading her mother’s mind.
You can read the entire article and see the photographs of the girl in the original article on Khaleej Times: Miracle girl.
You can follow and participate in a discussion on this topic in the Skeptiko forum thread “Psychic girl“.
The following talk, recently released on the TED web site is a good explanation of what meditation is. The speaker, Andy Puddicombe, explains meditation through simple examples and through… juggling. No religious colors are present either. Highly recommended.
Back in 2007 I wrote an article about Rupert Sheldrake [experiment with the talking parrot](http://www.mind-energy.net/archives/252-Parrot-demonstrating-telepathy-the-NKisi-project.html), N’kisi.
In that experiment Rupert, together with parrot’s owner, Aimee Morgana, tested the bird for a possible telepathic link between it and Aimee.
The results were published in a paper and suggested strong above-chance results for the parrot having a psychic connection to Aimee.
The news is a recently-published YouTube video from Rupert Sheldrake’s lecture where he tells about this experiment. And this video contains a footage from the experiment. It’s remarkable, touching, and funny.
I originally learned of the video from the [Skeptiko podcast forum](http://forum.mind-energy.net/skeptiko-podcast/) and you might want to read what [others in the community have to say about this video](http://forum.mind-energy.net/skeptiko-podcast/4615-rupert-sheldrake-presents-footage-psychic-parrot.html) and even join the discussion.
Cassi Vieten and Dean Radin of IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences), announced a planned experiment at Burning Man 2012 to test Mind over Matter interaction. The participants will try to affect a Random Number Generator (RNG) using their minds. Their efforts will be visualized using a “Huge Freakin’ Laser”, as they say. The laser will turn greener as the deviation increases and more red as it increases.
The organizers believe that the large number of people present at Burning Man will have a mesurable effect on the RNGs. Dean Radin has performed similar experiments in a laboratory conditions, even with online participants but taking it into the public and into such a large event as Burning Man may have even better results and also an increased media exposure.
IONS is asking the public to support the experiment financially. Their goal is to raise $2000 “to pay for computers, RNGs, lasers, etc”.
Telepathy is one of these subjects that intrigue many people because of its possible practical consequences. Twin telepathy – the possible connection between twins appears to be a relatively known fact, especially to many twins. There are a lot of stories about this phenomenon and some research has been done in the field. I’d like to present some sources to ignite your interest.
I first wrote about this in an article more than 6 ago, Telepathy experiments with identical twins. I presented a TV “study” there but what I loved about this article is a comment that I’ve received. Here’s an excerpt from this comment:
As a mother, I have experienced this phenomenon myself. The first times were when my first son was born. He developed an infection and was in a special care baby unit for the first week of his life. The unit was three floors below my room and yet every time my baby randomly woke up during the day or night, I knew, and was sitting at the door ready to go down to breast feed him when the nurse called up for me. The urge to go to him was even strong enough to wake me from a deep sleep.
Knowing when he needed me continued very strongly and he was 5 or 6 before it began to lessen. On one occasion, when he was three, I was with some of the other mums in the kitchen at a birthday party when I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I rushed through to find him and a much older boy had sneaked him into a bedroom under a pretext and was trying to strangle him. My son was blue in the face and passing out…
Early in the evening of 27 November 1975, the writer and television personality Ross McWhirter was shot in the head and chest by two gunmen on the doorstep of his north London home. He was rushed to hospital, but was declared dead on or shortly after arrival, before his identical twin brother Norris could reach his bedside…
…I was able to get an eye-witness account from somebody who had been with Norris McWhirter at the time of the shooting and yes, he had unmistakably reacted. Moreover, he had reacted in a dramatic way, almost as if he too had been shot – by an invisible bullet.
There’s another article by Guy Lyon Playfair at the Paranormalia site where he writes about twin telepathy and presents the following information, among other:
In 2004 the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London sent a questionnaire to the 10,000 twins on its books that included a question never asked before, to my knowledge, by a scientific body: ‘Do you have the ability to know what is happening to your co-twin when you are not there?’. More than half (54%) said yes or maybe, only 46% said no. What was particularly intriguing about these results, apart from the fact that there are some 5,000 twins out there who think they have or might have experienced telepathy, was the fact that nearly twice as many identical as fraternal (non-identical) ones said yes.
If you’d love to read some more stories from twins, I suggest you read the comments to a twin telepathy article on about.com. The article itself is not as interesting as readers’ account, in my opinion.
As to scientific research. There appear to be some proper research done on twins. One was published in the Science magazine in 1965. Two researchers from the Department of Ophthalmology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia published an article in the Science journal titled “Extrasensory electroencephalographic induction between identical twins”. The results showed striking correlation between their minds. Here’s a link to the (very short) abstract. The whole paper can be bought on the site.
Another research was performed more recently by Dr. Dean Radin, one of the leading psi researchers today. His paper, “Event-Related Electroencephalographic Correlations Between Isolated Human Subjects” (PDF), comes to the following conclusion:
Under certain conditions, the EEG of a sensorially isolated human subject can become correlated with event-related potentials in a distant person’s EEG. This suggests the presence of an unknown form of energetic or informational interaction.
To sum things up, there appears to both some scientific and vast anecdotal evidence to a telepathic connection between twins. Especially so between identical twins.
If you have own stories like these, or heard them first-hand, write them in the comments.
I often wondered how do psychic people feel about being psychic. I wanted to understand how it affects their lives. I think the blog post from Craig Weiler, What Is It Like To Be Psychic?, and the comments to this post from other psychics make a good introduction into this topic.
I’d love to quote some excerpts from the post and the comments but I suggest you also go and read the whole piece.
I have trouble imagining what it would be like to not be psychic. When I have tried to do this, it comes across as condescending towards other people, which is not my intent. On the other hand, I have a duty to tell the truth, which is this: not being psychic feels like a cold barren place to me. I do not understand how people can live this way without going insane from the torture of being cut off from the feeling of connectedness. It feels horrible to me when I imagine it.
I’m not sure what to think about it. Certainly most of us, “regulars” don’t got insane but apparently we miss quite a lot. Below are a couple of examples of this connectedness, as I see it. The first one is personal about him.
…In fact, nothing terrible is ever going to happen to me; I know instinctively that this is not in my future… The main reason that nothing terrible will ever happen to me is that I can sense bad paths in my life in the areas of health and relationship and steer clear of them long before they cause me damage.
The second one is about other people.
I can see things through other people’s perception, provided that they are not too screwed up, although this is always my perception seeing theirs, so there is some translation going on.
Craig also explains in the post how he perceives information and what he has to do and not do to access it. He concludes with the notion of “connectedness”, which is something that many sensitive or enlightened people report.
And of course, there is the connectedness. There is a sense of belonging to something vast, something much greater than myself that completely transcends my individual life. All I can say is that it is truly beautiful.
The comments also have some interesting points of view in them. For example, the first comment starts with a rather surprising statement: “Most of the time, I just say it’s boring.” Or consider the following several excerpts from the comments:
For me, being highly sensitive can be fun when toying with people. On the flip side, it is a frightening state knowing an event will happen and not being able to stop it, find it, warn or avoid it. But worse is when it involves other people. A feeling of helplessness and dread dominate until the event passes…
A long, interesting, comment opens with the following:
I know or see things ahead of the news pretty frequently. I saw (in my head) the tsunami in Japan as it was happening. It looked like the end of the world.
Psychics can feel disconnected from society too and some of them mention the hostility that they meet because they’re psychic:
I also have to read online that I “don’t exist.”. “Psychics are not real”, is what people say all the time. “They will take your money and make a fool of you”, say the skeptics. “They are delusional,” others say.
There are much more gems in the comments. It seems that people were touched by Craig’s post and other psychics allowed themselves to open their hearts and their virtual mouths.
The Atlantic University is conducting an interesting study and asks people to participate in an online survey.
Below is the message from the researchers:
We are interested in learning more about a variety of human experiences, some of which are unusual, but are by no means uncommon in the general population. We are undertaking an online survey to explore individual differences, synesthesia (the tendency for some people to experience two senses together, e.g., colored words or numbers; tasting shapes; spatially organized calendars, etc.), and a variety of anomalous experiences (for example, extrasensory perception).
We would very much appreciate it if you would take the time to complete this online questionnaire, even if you have never experienced the things described on the questionnaire.
Please email Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore if you have any questions about the survey.
Christine Simmonds-Moore, Ph.D.
University of West Georgia, firstname.lastname@example.org